“My body, my choice.” So goes the slogan of the pro-abortion movement. Unless, of course, you are a surrogate—or is that the case?
The Atlantic ran a fascinating article recently entitled “When Parents and Surrogates Disagree on Abortion.” In it, the author wrestles with the difficult questions surrounding the meaning of fatherhood, motherhood, and personhood—even if sometimes unintentionally.
In her article, Katie O’Reilly details the story of a 47-year-old California woman, Melissa Cook, who has contracted with a 50-year-old single man in Georgia to be a surrogate for his children. After an in vitro fertilization procedure, doctors implanted three embryos that were created from eggs donated by an anonymous 20-year-old and the single man’s sperm. All three babies are healthy and viable, but the man is now insisting the woman abort one, citing “limited finances and the health of the babies.” Cook is refusing to abort and is demanding the right to adopt the third even as she gives the other two to the man she contracted with. Needless to say, the situation is complicated.
Commenting on the situation in a profound understatement, O’Reilly writes,
As long as people have been using third-party reproduction, they’ve been grappling with novel legal and social questions about the meaning of parenthood.
She goes on to ask what she terms are the legal, bioethical, and political questions involved in these cases:
Who are the parents of the fetuses, and who gets to make such decisions? What are the implications for women’s reproductive autonomy?
Before there is the legal, the bioethical, and the political, though, there is the moral and theological. These questions involve definitions of fatherhood, motherhood, and personhood, which can only be answered from a properly theological foundation—a foundation that O’Reilly seems unwilling to acknowledge.
O’Reilly goes on to reveal that she once was an egg donor herself and in the process, she had to grapple with the emotional complications inevitable in the new, Wild Wild West of reproductive technology.
In 2009, I went through an agency in California to donate my eggs to anonymous parents. At 25, I donated out of financial desperation, so I found myself surprised by how overjoyed I was when the birth mother became pregnant with triplets. I was also devastated a few months later, when I learned via our agency liaison that she had lost two of the fetuses in utero. And when I learned much later that egg-donation recipients who become pregnant with multiples are often advised to “selectively reduce”—which very well could have been a factor in my recipients’ case—I found the idea unsettling, despite the fact that I’m fervently pro-choice [emphasis added].
O’Reilly is “unsettled” about the selective abortion of one of the infants she contributed genetic material to create because she recognizes—hard as she might try to suppress it—the personhood and inherent worth of the child who lost its life.
Later in the article, O’Reilly quotes Elizabeth Reis, a professor of gender and bioethics at City University of New York.
“There’s so much interaction between a mother’s body and a developing fetus,” says Reis. “Nowadays, we understand that with surrogacy, you’re not just putting something in a toaster and having it come out, with no give and take. Now that egg donation is all over the place, we don’t want to think that because someone gave an egg, they’re a mother. But should these women—donors and surrogates—have some kind of relationship with the child? [emphasis added].
And this gets to my central concern. In this article, which so desperately tries to paint surrogacy and abortion and reproductive freedom in neutral colors, there appears a third party that is not being considered in these contractual relationships: the unborn child. The tacit, unstated reality of the infant’s personhood is made clear when a man demands—and a contract reflects—legal control over the life of a little one who is growing inside of a surrogate’s womb. Her body, her choice? If her body were the only meaningful entity, then these surrogacy contracts would be meaningless.
Then is it her body, the baby’s body, and their choice? If so, then it is a choice that involves nothing short of life and death.
There are a whole host of moral and theological concerns with surrogacy. But we should be thankful for articles like this that shine a bright light on the persons that this culture of death so desperately wants to ignore. How ironically backwards is it when a business whose whole purpose is to bring persons into this world does not even recognize these persons as persons? Lord, have mercy.